Famous author speaks at Safe Water for Walton event

Nathan Cobb | 315-4432 | @WaltonSunNate | nathan@waltonsun.com

For the first time since Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970, today's generation is on pace to inherit water sources less pure than the previous generation, according to a national best-selling author.

Local environmental group Safe Water for Walton recently invited Cynthia Barnett, TEDx speaker and author, to speak at an event at South Walton High School.

The title of her discussion was “the history of water in Florida” in which she discussed water's role in ecosystems and factors that have led to periods of drought and pollution in Florida's past.

Before 1970, Barnett said Americans accepted pollution as a byproduct of industrial advancement — until Time Magazine published a photograph of Ohio's Cuyahoga River in flames.

The picture publicized the extreme pollution levels of the ‘70s, and Barnett said we have once again reached what Nixon called the “now or never point.”

“Just like half a century ago, water scarcity pressures are combining with water quality concerns in the east from Flint, Michigan, to the harmful algae blooms that we’re seeing right now all over Florida,” said Barnett, who spoke at a recent Safe Water for Walton event.

In addition, Barnett is a professor at the University of Florida and said she has spent a lot of time working on her national and global publications in Walton County.

“Every writer has that best place where inspiration and solitude (meet), and in my case the muse of water," Barnett said. "Ever since I was awarded an Escape to Create artist residency in Seaside in 2014 to finish my last book, that best place for me has been Walton County,” Barnett said.

She narrowed down Florida's main pollutants to algae blooms, pharmaceutical medicines and plastics and her solution is simple: save more, use less.

Even though most people don't think of Florida having droughts, Barnett said the state has experienced dry periods caused by excessive pumping after heavy rainfalls.

She also said that researchers who study the water levels of Florida's wetlands have found evidence of dry periods worse than anything seen in recent history.

Fortunately, Barnett thinks there is still hope for the waters of northern Florida.

She said citizens should be mindful of the risks that face this area, because unlike other counties in Florida, Walton has many different bodies of water ranging from gulfs, dune lakes, rivers, springs and creeks that could easily spread pollutants.

"Safe guarding these water treasures requires a broad, local water ethic and this is a vigilance from all sectors (private, public and nonprofit)," Barnett said. ... "What strikes me about Walton is the extent to which you're shaped by and defined by water really more so than any other part of Florida. ... Water is literally a chemical bond and it can also be a bond among people.”

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